I am a certified special education school teacher who has taught various grades and subjects in the states of New York, Georgia, and Washington, D.C. Prior to teaching I was a youth counselor for many years, where I worked with youth diagnosed from moderate to severe intellectual disabilities, behavioral and emotional challenges, autism/Asperger’s syndrome, and even eating disorders.
Through my work with children, I have noticed a disheartening truth over the years.
Regardless of the therapeutic setting, classroom, or child population, one thing that has become abundantly clear to me is that children who do not fit the “traditional family” mold often times face a tremendous sense of feeling alone and ashamed—especially because every book in their homes, schools and libraries mention a mom and dad. It is certainly no fault of the families involved but more so, the fact that, as a whole, society caters to the traditional family.
I recall in first grade my teacher having us use scissors to cut out our craft project and having no left-handed scissors. I didn’t know how to cut with right-handed scissors, but seeing all my classmates do it, I desperately tried. Try as I may, my cut-outs were looking nothing like those of my classmates. Frustrated, I secretly asked myself why I was different. A simple pair of left-handed scissors would have prevented this feeling of isolation I experienced. While I am not comparing being left-handed to being a gay family member, I can certainly speak on behalf of not feeling different and not belonging.
According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs, the feeling of belonging is one of our basic needs, and one in which many successes are based on. I have been in countless classrooms and taught many young students who I knew were gay—a term I use inclusively. These students longed for understanding, yearned for relatability, and struggled with belonging.
We live in a society where our books, music, conversations, holidays etc. are geared exclusively to families made up of a mom and dad.
While I think we need to embrace and celebrate the traditional mom and dad family dynamic, we also need to embrace and celebrate all family dynamics just the same. When I worked with elementary students I was always careful with my pronouns during story time. I would try and use “parents” or “family,” instead of the usual “Mom and Dad.”
The reality is that there are many different family dynamics whether a child lives with a mom and dad, step-parent, foster parent, same-gender parents, grandparents etc. Sadly our books and language often—yet unintentionally—overlook this rapidly growing reality. In order to thrive and succeed, children need to feel affirmed and belonged regardless of where they come from, and with whom they happen to live.
Similar to giving my students options if they did not celebrate Christmas, I had options for Mother and Father’s Day projects. Sadly however, many of my colleagues did not. One of the saddest aspects of working with children is seeing a little part of their soul being gouged, and it is easy for this to happen. This would happen to many students in my school when on Mother’s or Father’s Day, they had to create a card for an imaginary person, and did so in silence. Young children are sensitive, vulnerable, impressionable, and in constant search for validation. Children struggle with identity and relatability in the best of circumstances.
Students who are gay or come from gay families have an added challenge as they are often an invisible minority.
Frustrated over the constant lack of children’s books on family diversity that spoke directly to a child’s self-esteem, I decided to do something about it rather than continually complain to my director. So I wrote and illustrated my own children’s book, I Am Loved Right Where I Am.
This book is a phenomenal educational tool for every child and every home in America. If a child reading I Am Loved Right Where I Am comes from a home with a Mom and Dad, they will not only relate to one of the characters in my book, but also learn that many of their friends and classmates come from different family dynamics. Children who come from families with two daddies or two mommies will also relate to some of the characters in my book and have a sense of family equality.
The goal of my book is quite simple: I want the reader to walk away feeling belonged and loved, as well as having a stronger sense of universal connection.
If we want our children to succeed in life, we must act early.
Pressures of all types are constantly bombarding our children from every direction in schools today. At the same token, my book is just as educational for those who are home-schooled or out of school—even such children are not safeguarded from the media, their friends, and society.
We must ensure our youth feel safe, comfortable, and belonged. If a child is constantly on mental guard from friends, extended family members, society, the media etc., they cannot be fully focused on learning or be able to reach their full self-actualization in life.
I think this book is a great addition to anyone’s personal book collection, home library, and most certainly, a gift to that special child or family.